Learn why your dough is snapping back and how to fix it
It’s a Friday night in your shop and there are tickets spitting out of the printer and food flying out of the window. Besides working the line and running the ovens one of my favorite positions in any restaurant is the pass. The last line of defense before the food goes out. Making sure every pizza or item is up to standards and cooked correctly. We all work very hard to design our pizzas to be visually appealing as much as they are tasty, taking care to match the plate or tray to that vision.
One of my biggest pet peeves is when a pizza comes to the window and it’s one to two inches too small. There’s a visible gap between the crust and the edge of the plate. To me, I see a pizza that is now undercooked because there’s too much dough in the crust or too small of a middle where the toppings are now bunched up making the pizza too heavy and just a mess. My job at that point is to reject the pizza, call for a refire and keep the tickets moving. The bigger problem at hand is that this small pizza is not always the fault of the person stretching the dough but could stem from several mistakes made prior, leading to what’s called snapping back. As hard as you try to stretch your dough properly it continues to snap back and shrink an inch or two. This is dough snapback.
To better understand why dough snaps back we need to have a basic understanding of gluten development.
Gluten begins to form as soon as water is introduced to flour. There are two soluble proteins in flour, glutenin and gliadine, that when water is introduced begin to bind together. The act of mixing is required to evenly distribute the water throughout the flour but to also speed up the hydration process. Time is essential here as the physical mechanics of mixing by hand or by machine will hydrate the flour but the internal chemical reactions within takes time to solidify that gluten network. This is one reason why we let our dough rest for various periods of time before using. Different protein contents within flour will result in different strengths of gluten networks. Ingredients like salt and fats will affect gluten but time is a key ingredient. We want our doughs to be fully hydrated creating strong gluten structures, but time also allows the enzymes within our dough to aid in the extensibility. Think of your dough like a balloon. If your dough has been mixed well and is hydrated it will grow like when you inflate a balloon, stretching to accommodate the gas inside. If it has not been mixed well that balloon will pop and not hold the gas ending up with deflated dough.
Mixing time and the type of mixer used is extremely important when it comes to gluten development.
If not done properly this can lead to your dough snapping back. Over mixing is a thing. When it comes time to mix your dough, having a game plan and all your ingredients weighed out and ready to go is important. I have seen many operations weigh as they go, which translates to dough mixing for too long in the mixer and the gluten becoming too tight.
Think of your gluten like a rubber band when mixing. That rubber band when held is stretchy, but can retain its shape. If you twist it and overlap it onto itself the band becomes tighter and springs back faster when you try and stretch it. Overmixing is like if you were to take that rubber band and twist and overlap it to a point where it won’t stretch and immediately wants to snap back onto itself. The point of no return is when dough is mixed to a point where it breaks. That rubber band has been tightened to a point where the elasticity is gone and instead breaks. Overmixing your dough leads to a dough ball that will not want to stretch and will keep snapping back to a smaller size.
Overmixing is not the only thing that leads to snapping back. Over balling your dough will also contribute. When you’re forming balls it should only take you maybe four to five passes to form and close a dough ball. If you are continuously tightening and forming a ball, that gluten is way too rigid and will have a hard time stretching. There are a few visual indicators that will tell you the dough has been overmixed or over balled before you even attempt to stretch it. Dough balls not only grow up but also grow out as they mature. If they are nested tightly together, they will grow out till they touch and then grow up the rest of the way. For those that are overmixed or over balled, your dough will have a really hard time expanding and will most likely grow up but because the gluten structure is too tight the gas will try and find an escape or release and will most likely deflate before it has rested long enough to develop flavor. Think of an old or stiff balloon. If there’s no give to stretch, it will find the weakest point and the balloon will break.
Cold dough is another factor here. Cold dough will not only cook poorly but will not stretch well and will continue to snap back. If you were to try and run a marathon without warming up you’ll most likely pull a muscle within the first few miles. Dough is no different, warming up your dough means the dough will stretch nicely and be less likely to tear.
Regardless of overmixing or over balling time is of the essence. If you allow your dough to rest long enough, whether at room temperature or inside the refrigerator, the fermentation process inside your dough will help relax it so it can stretch.
A combination of all these factors will play into the extensibility of your dough. Things change every day, which makes it hard to maintain consistency. But having a routine in place will help ensure your dough performs at its highest.
LAURA MEYER is Administrator & Instructor, The International School of Pizza.